Ten Questions for the Unofficial Start of Baseball Season

The Super Bowl is behind us, which means baseball season has begun.
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The most important moment of the Super Bowl had nothing to do with football. When the game clock hit zero, baseball season began.

Sure, there’s plenty of time to get mad in March while watching college basketball, but nothing gets us through the final weeks of winter quite like the anticipation of baseball. We've got 10 big questions leading up to the 2020 season.

1. Will the Yankees run away with the AL East?

The Yankees signed Gerrit Cole at the winter meetings and immediately became World Series favorites. Giving $324 million to the best pitcher on the planet is the most Yankees way to fix their rotation, and their lineup should be as good, if not better than it was last season. 

Still, the AL East isn’t an easy division to win. The Rays have mastered winning on a small budget and should be good again this year. The Blue Jays should be better in their second season of Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio. And the Red Sox will still be a threat as long as they don’t trade Mookie Betts (more on that later).

2. Did the Angels do enough this offseason to return to the playoffs?

For the first time in a while, Mike Trout will have a strong lineup around him. The Angels signed Anthony Rendon fresh off his World Series win with the Nationals. His lethal bat behind Trout in the order and his strong glove alongside Andrelton Simmons on the left side of the infield instantly improves L.A.'s chances. Plus, Shohei Ohtani will return as a two-way player this year after only hitting in 2019. Add in Joe Maddon, after the Cubs let his contract expire at the end of the season, and even the corpse of Albert Pujols, and there’s little question the Angels will be interesting to watch. 

The AL West will be a tough division. The Rangers are better, the Athletics have much of the same team that earned a wild card berth in each of the last two seasons and the Astros are still wildly talented. But for baseball’s sake, let’s hope Mike Trout can make the postseason for the first time since 2013.

mike-trout

3. Will the Phillies fare better in Year 2 of Bryce Harper?

After the winter of Stupid Money, the Phillies were the National League’s most disappointing team last season, their first year with Bryce Harper. They failed to make the playoffs and watched as the Nationals, their division rival and Harper’s former team, won the World Series. So they fired manager Gabe Kapler and hired Joe Girardi, giving them one of the best skippers in the game, and they signed starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. The NL East has four contending teams—the Phillies, Nationals, Braves and Mets—but both the Braves and Nats lost their starting third baseman from last season to free agency. Maybe this is Philly’s year.

4. Are the baseballs still juiced?

The previous three questions are much easier to predict than this. The obvious answer is we don't know. But the real question is why this even has to be a question.

Will we see another record year for dingers? Or will long fly balls fall into the gloves of outfielders like they did in the postseason? Does Major League Baseball care one way or another? Yes, I answered my question with three more questions because if MLB doesn’t have to answer for juiced ball, neither do I.

5. Can the Nationals be the first repeat World Series winner since 2000?

Yes, the Nationals can win the World Series again in 2020. They re-signed Stephen Strasburg and will still have Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin making up one of baseball’s best rotations. They improved their bullpen, which was the worst in the National League in 2019, and brought back infielders Howie Kendrick, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Ryan Zimmerman. I don’t think the Nats will be the best team in baseball this year, but then again, I didn’t expect them to be last season either.

6. What’s up with the White Sox?

The White Sox are this season’s up-and-coming team, with a great young core and solid veterans. And it’s exciting to get behind a team before it gets good, like a band you can claim you saw at the local bar before everyone else saw them play at the Garden. 

Chicago signed Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnación and Steve Cishek this offseason, re-signed José Abreu, and will have a youthful lineup featuring Tim Anderson, Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert. Does that mean they’ll make the postseason in 2020? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s definitely enough to bring some baseball buzz to the South Side of Chi-Town.

7. Which superstars will get traded?

My guess is at least one of Kris Bryant or Mookie Betts will be traded before August 2020, maybe both of them. The Red Sox would be smart to deal Betts before the season starts to maximize their return for him, but because the end-of-year payroll is what counts toward the luxury tax, they could wait to see if they fall out of contention before parting ways with their superstar. Bryant, too, could be gone before the season begins, but the Cubs may try and take one more shot at winning another World Series before giving away one of their best players.

kris-bryant

Nolan Arenado is unhappy in Colorado, and the Rockies should get a solid return for the All-Star third baseman, but for some reason, owner Dick Monfort thinks his team is going to defy expectations and win 94 games. Not sure they can win 60 games without Arenado, so he’ll probably be staying in Denver. Cleveland is in decline, but unless the offer for Francisco Lindor is too good to refuse, the Indians will probably keep their fan favorite until at least the middle of the season.

8. Will the best team have more wins than the worst team has losses?

Each of the last two seasons, the worst team in baseball lost more games than the best team won. In 2018, the Orioles lost a whopping 115 games; the Red Sox won 108. Last season, both the Orioles (108) and the Tigers (114) lost more games than the Astros won (107).

9. How good will the Astros be?

The Astros are still super talented, regardless of their banging scheme that cost manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs. Without illegally stealing signs, Houston almost certainly will be among the league’s best offenses. José Altuve, Alex Bregman and George Springer still anchor a loaded lineup, and Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are still in the rotation. I’m curious to see how old-school manager Dusty Baker does with the Franchise of the Future, and maybe 2020 will be a bit of a letdown after this winter’s debacle, but don’t expect the Astros to completely crumble.

10. Can David Ross save the Cubs' dynasty that wasn’t?

Remember the promise of a Cubs dynasty when they won the 2016 World Series and had a group of elite young stars? Joe Maddon was a rockstar manager, and every bad team wanted to do the teardown-rebuild model that worked for the Cubs. The Astros made it work in 2017, while the Cubs lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS. At the time, we didn’t think that was the beginning of the end for Chicago. But now, Maddon is gone and the backup catcher from the 2016 team, David Ross, is the manager. Will an old teammate be enough to rekindle the fire that brought the Cubs their first World Series title in 108 years? The NL Central is four teams deep but does not have a favorite. Many of the core players—Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez—remain with the team. We’ll see if Wrigley Field is rocking come October.